BAYHAM: Arbitrator Rules For Saints…And Sanity

Next year, Mardi Gras will be held on a Tuesday.

Next year the Fourth of July will be celebrated on July 4th, just as Cinco de Mayo will be sullied by Mexican history oblivious gringos on May 5th.

And tight end Jimmy Graham will still be a tight end. And if he doesn’t come to an agreement with the New Orleans Saints on a longterm deal, he will be paid about $7 million, which is the going rate for a franchise tagged , top NFL tight end instead of reaping the benefits of a more lucrative deal involving guaranteed money and career stability with the quarterback that has raised the value of the late third round selection from 2010.

The arbitrator’s ruling should not have shocked anyone when he declared that the All Pro tight end was…wait for it…

And if you don’t believe the arbitrator Stephen Burbank, just consult Graham’s social media outlets (which is precisely what the arbitrator did).

Graham was listed as a tight end at the U and was drafted as a tight end. Graham went to the Pro Bowl as a tight end. And he received All Pro honors as a tight end.

While Graham is an active piece in the Saints’ offense and has emerged as a favorite target for quarterback Drew Brees, there’s nothing in the rules that say tight ends cannot catch passes. In fact, unlike a tackle, tight ends do not have to declare themselves eligible to receive a pass at the start of a play.

Imagine for a moment if the Saints had to declare each occasion when Graham when Graham was an eligible receiver. That Graham catches more passes than most other tight ends is a credit to his athleticism and talent not to mention the future Pro Football Hall of Famer throwing him the ball. It does not make him any less of a tight end, who tend to have a distinct physical build similar to Graham’s.

Yet Graham and his agent the notoriously aggressive Jimmy Sexton, tried to hang their hopes on the amount of times Graham lines up as a wide receiver as opposed to the times when he lined up at the tight end position.

They were betting the house on “frequency of function” over a position designation he had never challenged previously, though it was listed in the team’s media guide and hyped by the national media when Graham and New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski were chasing the record for most receiving yards in a single season for a tight end.

Nor to my knowledge has the voice of the Saints Jim Henderson ever been served “cease and desist” letters from Graham’s attorney for describing him as a tight end during games.
“Sexton Justice” would have not have opened a can of worms; it would have opened a basket of cobras.

Wide receiver, tight end and maybe running back would be changed to an omnibus “receiver” designation. Pardon the pun, but it would be a “catch all” move.

Head coaches mindful of potential future financial obligations might have to play their athletes differently. Can you imagine the sight of an accountant trailing head coach Sean Payton, pointing out that that involving certain players in certain schemes could have negative salary cap implications?

Granted the sideline theatre where Payton would shred a ledger into pieces and hurl them at his designated “bean/reception counter” would be amusing,

The kind of player who could have potentially benefitted from a ruling in Graham’s favor is a running back along the lines of former Saint Darren Sproles. Though not the player he once was, the short and shifty player racked up more yards in 2013 as a receiver (604) than on the ground (220), yet would anyone really classify Sproles as a wide receiver and not a running back (aside from perhaps Sexton)?

The difference between a franchise tagged running back and the premium rate for a franchise tagged wide receiver is $2.8 million.

Graham and his agent’s gambit was nothing more than a shameless money grab.

And while a lot of sports writers have gone through great lengths to defend Graham and his agent’s gambit as just being part of the “dance”, those in the fandom who are not beholden to Graham’s press accessibility are not keeping their dissatisfaction with the prolonged haggling too well and are frustrated that the team’s second biggest star’s future is in question.

The move cost Graham nothing aside from some goodwill but he stood to reap a substantial windfall of $5 million in 2014, a difference in single-season tenders that few Saints’ season ticket holders make in a lifetime of toil.

Hopefully the player and his authorized representative will not encumber the star’s future with the team further by similar Hail Mary negotiation plays as the July 15th deadline to iron out a multiyear contract approaches.

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